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Philippine rights groups warn of looming military rule

Proposed amendments to the country's anti-terror law will allow 30day detention, stifle press freedom
Philippine rights groups warn of looming military rule

Students join a demonstration in Manila in May to protest what they described as a creeping dictatorial rule of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Angie de Silva) 

 

Published: June 26, 2018 10:59 AM GMT
Updated: June 26, 2018 11:07 AM GMT

Philippine church and human rights activists have united in calling for the country's legislators not to make proposed draconian changes to an already tough anti-terror law.

Opposition members of Congress revealed this week that President Rodrigo Duterte is expected to push for an amendment to the 11-year-old Human Security Act.

The legislators said the proposed changes will threaten press freedom and the people's right to free expression.

A technical working group is already drafting the measure that is being authored by Representatives Amado Espino Jr., Gary Alejano, and Leopoldo Bataoil, all former members of the police and military.

The proposed measure will raise the penalty for terrorism from 40 years to life imprisonment. It also allows the police and military to detain suspects for 30 days.

A proposal to impose the death penalty on convicted terrorists has been rejected by the drafting committee.

"This new development from the House of Representatives gives hope to the eventual rejection of the restoration of the death penalty," Bishop Joel Baylon of Legazpi.

The prelate said, "no crime, no matter how heinous, can take life away from any human being."

But lawyer Neri Colmenares, a former member of the Lower House of Congress, noted that in the proposed amendment of the law, journalists who interview people branded as terrorists could also be charged.

"[The proponents of the law] equate journalism's vocation for truth-telling as 'glamorization' of terrorist groups," Colmenares told ucanews.com.

"They think journalists who interview suspects, instead of informing on their whereabouts, are accessories to terrorism," he added.

Raymond Villanueva, director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, warned that the proposed law could make practicing journalism "extremely dangerous."

Youth party Kabataan warned that the amendments would usher in "undeclared but legislated nationwide martial law."

Punishable acts under the proposed amended version of the law include those that "risk public health, safety or security, or interfere and disrupt critical infrastructure."

"That kind of overreach will make terrorists of striking transport workers and workers in crucial sectors who only want to improve their lives," said Colmenares

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines has already questioned the proposal to lower the standard of proof, from personal knowledge to probable cause and reasonable ground of suspicion, in getting a 30- to 90-day wiretap and surveillance orders.

Mervin Toquero, a representative of the council, said the proposal allows the Department of Justice to open all communications by suspects and persons they contact.

Human rights group Karapatan said the measure would give the military the same powers as law enforcement units.

"With laws like this, Duterte won't even have to declare martial law," said Karapatan spokeswoman Cristina Palabay.

Human rights groups said Duterte's first two years in office has featured assaults on civil liberties.

His drug war, which has killed thousands of mostly poor Filipinos suspected of being drug users or dealers, has little room for due process.

At least 131 leftist activists have died in the past two years while hundreds more have been arrested.

The proposed changes to the anti-terror law come on the heels of government efforts to have about 700 individuals proscribed as terrorists.

The list includes activists and even international rights expert Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples.

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